Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Nut Job (2014)

The most expensive movie co-produced in South Korea...apparently, and Canada had their fingers involved too! So would this explain why the movie is so poor?  This whole fiasco is based on an animated short which revolved around the main character Surly Squirrel (sounds like a crap Disney character).

Park creatures are the focus of this animal based adventure, well park creatures and some woodland creatures it seems. So its kinda like 'Over the Hedge' but just nowhere near as good or funny. For some unknown reason the movie is set in 1959 although I had no clue to this whilst watching, I just thought it was the artistic style for quirkiness. All these little mammals live in or near a big tree within a park, winter is coming and they gotta collect nuts to survive. I kinda always thought that was a squirrel thing but in this movie raccoon's  moles birds etc...all seem to want nuts too.

Believe it or not that's pretty much the entire premise, creatures after nuts. The gimmick being after accidentally burning down the big tree whilst trying to nab nuts, Surly Squirrel is outcast into the city to survive as punishment. There he discovers a basement full of nuts but the basement is also the HQ for some bank robbers who are attempting their own heist. Hence the movie being called the Nut Job because it deals with a bank job and a similar job for the creatures trying to nab these nuts...such a clever play on the 'Italian Job' movie...oh geez...face in palms cringe time. Oh and I guess Surly Squirrel is caused this down to the fact he's miserable mean and selfish right? (*groan*).

OK the movie looks good of course, I can't fault that but its hardly a surprise is it. Everything is animated beautifully and looks glossy. All the characters are well designed, they all look as they should (cartoony versions of animals) and the voice acting work is solid. The nameless raccoon character looks to have been designed around Liam Neeson's face as they both have similar facial expressions and a big conk which work well. Various other characters are as you'd expect with the stereotypical dumb clumsy characters, fat ugly characters, tough large characters and the one main attractive female character (attractive on an animal level).

Most of these characters are all reasonable enough accept for Grayson Squirrel who is the park hero...but is actually very incompetent and cowardly (you're suppose to laugh now...this is the funny character). This guy is annoying and pretty pointless really, he serves no real purpose and could be easily hacked out of the movie. Naturally Brendan Fraser voices this highly annoying and pointless squirrel and we've seen this act before from Fraser.

One problem with this movie is there are too many character I think, you're never really sure if you actually like any of them because most of them are so fundamentally unlikable and boring. Well that and incredibly cliched predictable and stereotypical of every animal animated movie ever! The plot is so utterly drab and it goes nowhere! they wanna steal nuts, OK so steal them, what's the big deal. The stupid thing is they're animals...they could probably grab nuts and all sorts from anywhere in a city and in the end they don't actually manage to get them anyway! Half of them got flushed away in the river and can you count wet soggy nuts a score? The actual bank heist sub-plot going on with the humans just seemed so redundant, who cares? I didn't. It didn't really bare any influence or relevance on the animal plot going on around their feet.

Christ this movie was dull! I mean seriously I was getting up and doing other things. The plot is so slow, so dull, so unadventurous. The characters are so basic, so flat, so completely lifeless and cliched its painful, the fact the movie tries to be funny also sticks out like a sore thumb and bombs hard. Grayson Squirrel is clearly meant to be the pant wettingly funny aspect of the movie and he sucks ass! whilst the main hero squirrel Surly is just depressing. Oh and Hollywood people...its kinda creepy animating these cutesy creatures with human expressions and body movements.

What was that soundtrack about?! I'm guessing the use of horrendous 'Gangnam Style' track is down to the fact the movie was co-produced in South Korea. Was that really necessary? oh and was it remotely necessary to have an animated PSY in the end credits doing that stupid dance with all the animals!! Good God that was terrible, switched that shit off quicker than you can say that song will date this movie badly in years to come.


Monday, 27 October 2014

Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014)

Well here we are with the sequel to a poor movie that was a spin off of another half assed kids movie, yet bizarrely this movie is actually pretty good! The first adventure in the skies was basically a very dull very poor 'Cars' spin off that didn't do anything we hadn't already seen in the 'Cars' movie. It was quite awful with seriously lackluster characters truth be told.

Yet despite this something has happened here which has turned the franchise upside down...almost. Yes its all the same dubiously cliched and stereotypcial characters and yes the plot isn't exactly the greatest piece of original writing ever to touch down...but its actually fun! Put simply, Dusty the Air Tractor has ruined his internal bits n pieces with too much hardcore racing. Whilst being the arrogant cocky little sod that he is he crashes and causes a fire which in turn alerts some fire safety inspector truck dude to close the airport due to lack of a decent firefighting crew. In order to restore the airport to its former glory Dusty goes off to Piston Peak National Park (GREAT NAME! and presumably in the Wyoming/Colorado area of this universe) to learn to be a firefighter plane.

From there on its the predictable overused age old scenario where at first Dusty finds it hard mixing in with the fire crew. He slowly gets to know the team, discovers one female plane fancies him but the chief Ranger chopper thinks he's no good for the team, he won't make the grade. After numerous training sequences, whinny sulky moments, some heart-to-hearts and one to ones...a major fire breaks out which means its time to get down to the business of saving the day hero style. Essentially its the underdog schtick all over again with a highly obvious outcome all round for every character...the little plane that could.

I think the main difference from the first movie is the fact the visuals here look really really nice. Don't get me wrong its nothing that's gonna blow you away in a shower of epic CGI just looks very good and way way better than before. The first movie looked like an obvious made for TV flick and very basic. This time its been upgraded with a fresh coat of Turtlewax and its gleaming in every frame, background foreground and all the vehicle characters.

There is a wide selection of characters in here also but surprisingly that doesn't compromise the story. Actually many of the new characters are highly likable and really add a much needed to boost that was lacking before. Ed Harris as the Fire Ranger chopper is as you would expect...stern serious and without a sense of humour, but he's still a likable fella because he fair and righteous (not in an all American way though), and he looks good as a fire engine red chopper. Wes Studi voices a character that seems to be of Native American descent...I'm guessing by the way he speaks as I don't think its mentioned. This might seem incredibly cliched by now...which it is...but again he's a great character. His large green Skycrane design does eerily suit this Indian notion to a tee with its long curved blades that kinda look like long drapes of black hair and of course the helicopter wrap or colour scheme design seems to replicate typical Native American warpaint/face paint (around the eyes).

Gotta give kudos to the cool little team of smokejumpers that are made up of small JCB construction/excavator vehicles. Not only do these guys look quite cute nippy and cool, they are also quite amusing and not in any way annoying! I half expected them to leap into action by combining together to form a large Transformer-esque Constructicon (nerd smirk). There is a large voice cast in this movie, many small and large characters but at no point does it ever feel swamped, its handled well.

Despite the plodding exhausted plot premise at least they have tried to expand the story without retracing their steps. Yeah sure we've seen this kinda of thing before but the fact they make the old characters push forward into new territory creating a fresh angle for themselves (firefighting), and not going back to the old original plot premise of crop dusting/racing (which is hinted at but swept aside), is a big positive. I was sure at one point that Dusty would probably go back to his racing ways (predictably)...but no! he doesn't, he moves on and this in turn generates a nice new chapter for the franchise.

In that I wouldn't mind seeing another entry here. The blend of various vehicles is fun to watch if totally ridiculous at times, why would they need certain buildings like restaurants ? why would they have drinks in glasses at a function? wouldn't every building be humongous to house certain vehicles like large planes etc...Try not to get too technical with this incredibly insane premise as it is after all completely a kids flick and in no way meant to be taken any other way. Miles better than the first movie, leagues ahead with quality and some nice little visual gags for us older folk...Boat Reynolds! 'CHoPs' instead of 'CHiPs' (old 70s/80s TV show, in this universe its based around choppers/helicopters) and 'Howard the Truck'.


Thursday, 23 October 2014

22 Jump Street (2014)

Yep I see what they did with the movie title there, clever I suppose but it isn't really anything to do with the original TV show now is it, its just a double team buddy cop comedy. The original flick was one of those movies I honesty don't really remember much about, I do recall it being surprisingly amusing and not a complete faceless load of shit but nothing monumentally amazing that stuck in my mind.

So with that we have the obligatory follow up which basically sees the same shit happening to the same guys twice, how can this happen? how unlucky can this duo be? aren't they too old for this shit? Instead of high school its now college in a highly original plot line (people got paid to think this up?) and guess what...there are some bad guys to nail on the college campus. Que everything we saw in the first movie...but on a college campus? really?

So by now you're probably thinking I'm about to destroy this movie...well maybe...OK just a bit. The fun takes time to get going, its a slow slow start and I was getting itchy feet. It plays out like any bog standard 80's action flick, they catch the bad guys at the start but there's a shoot out and they get away...only to pop up later in the movie. We see the two main characters entering college and trying to fit in pretty much as they did previously in high school. Naturally this means Hill has trouble being the fat not so good looking half of the duo, whilst Tatum being a jock fits the scene like a glove and hits it off with some football lugs.

For me the film only really starts to hit its stride when Hill ends up banging Ice Cube young student daughter which was a solid twist I genuinely didn't see coming. The sequences involving Hill, Cube, his daughter and Hill's parents are really very good and save the film from the boredom of the cliched sequences where the undercover pair are in classes trying to be students. A later scene where Cube is debriefing the pair and Tatum only just clicks to what's being going on with Hill's bedroom antics is a particularly funny scene, cheesy but good. Things take an odd turn when Tatum's relationship with a football jock seems to get very close, I realise they are meant to be best buds but Jesus I was really expecting some real bromance toilet humour in some scenes. I was waiting for the homosexual gags yet amazingly it didn't happen! would have had money down on that here and there.

On from there you get the obligatory break up of the cop duo as they go their separate ways which I didn't get. Tatum decides to stay in college and play did he quit being a cop? surely you can't do both? yet apparently he was able to keep his undercover role and do both after all. There are the odd small sequences where the pair perform as real cops with all the proper gear yet in a spoof type manner. Tatum being the more athletic fit cop where as Hill...well you can guess. Towards the end you are presented with more obligatory cop action bits and pieces like a car chase with a fancy car and the sort of sneaky twist for the main bad guy behind everything.

I think the words obligatory and rehashed cover this movie pretty conclusively really. Its not a terrible movie, its not a great hilariously funny movie, its a reasonable buddy cop comedy satire/spoof but wholly unoriginal. The best bit about the whole film was the end credits sequence where the franchise is mocked completely by showing us spoofed movie posters and little clips for future installments in the franchise. The actual problem for that being they have literately covered everything that could possibly be done for a third film. So when that next sequel does turn up its genuinely not gonna feel any good because they have spoofed the whole franchise sequels aspect so well at the end here. Mocking repetitive fast food cash grab sequels huh...but at what point does this franchise actually become just that?


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Grudge Match (2013)

Well well what's this? the long awaited sequel to 'Raging Bull'? the long awaited follow up in the Rocky franchise? or is it merely an excuse to have Rocky vs Jake LaMotta? Well it kinda felt like all of the above really.

The plot sees aging fighters Stallone (Razor) and DeNiro (The Kid) trying to recapture their youth and regain their old pugilistic skills via setting up a big lavish grudge match. Back in their early years they were both top of their game, the best of the best, but which was better? The only fights the pair ever lost in their careers were to each other, one beat the other and vice versa. Just before their old rematch Razor retired which angered Kid, now the game is back on.

What I find a little amusing about this is it actually does feel like Rocky Balboa vs LaMotta, both Stallone and DeNiro perform pretty much in the same way they did for both iconic movies. Stallone's character basically is Balboa for Pete's sake, he lives in a typical blue collar area, has a poor paying job in the shipyards and comes across as a soft centred soul. On the other hand DeNiro is a cocky loud mouthed edgy fighter who only wants to win any way he can. Both actors are playing these roles seriously I might add, this is not a silly dumb comedy, its a proper boxing movie.

The whole project is so old school and retro it really is, Kim Basinger and Alan Arkin both have leading roles alongside the OAP fighters which made me feel like this was another Expendables type setup. The plot is cliched as hell and utilises every trick in the sports movie book, everything you saw in Rocky basically. At the same time there are some nice references to the lead stars earlier movies and some nice little moments to add a chuckle. Such as Stallone going into a meat locker and is about to slam into one carcass with his fists but is stopped by Arkin who points out they are there to buy meat not hit it. Yeah sure it sounds like a cheap modern day throw away visual gag reference to an older classic movie...and it totally is but it did make me smile a tad.

So yes there are plenty of obligatory family issues throughout for both fighters, gotta have those family issues to deal with. Its all so very predictable and painfully obvious what's gonna happen, DeNiro has his long abandoned son to win a new grandchild to get to know. Stallone loses his crappy job and has old flame Basinger crawling around him who also just happens to be DeNiro's old flame and mother of DeNiro's now grown up son whom he abandoned. Can you feel the pain and anguish surging through here?

Despite all the rather dull cheesy hokey drama the movie does end on a solid bit of boxing. Stallone still looks relatively impressive considering his age...DeNiro not quite as much but he does have that epic nasty look in his eye. Both men do look just as impressive in the ring as they did back in the day I must say, they both go at it hammer 'n' tongs and the movie doesn't shy away from the blood sweat and snot. I loved seeing all the old legendary grimaces and scowls from DeNiro during the fight, same can be said for Stallone with his more gormless facial expressions.

The film did poorly I have read but honesty I quite enjoyed this for what it was. Basically a purely nostalgic trip down memory lane or a leap back in time with your Delorean. Its pretty much our last chance to see these guys do what they did all those years ago, what made them famous (for Stallone at least). A simple sports flick with a happy ending and lots of retro appeal for guys and girls around my age and up. I really fail to see how any fan of both stars (or any movie fan) could not enjoy this, the films poster says it all and its a corker of a poster too.


Thursday, 16 October 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

So its come to this, despite the fact the last three movies were generally seen as complete and utter tripe, people for some reason still went and paid to see them. This in turn gave Bay and the powers that be good enough reason to churn out yet another slice of poo promising it wouldn't actually be a slice of poo. Yes if ever there was a franchise that is solely based around the mighty Dollar then this is it, and by that I mean the movie has been made with no soul love care or real attention to anything other than to look BIG and suck the money from your pocket.

What really makes no sense to me is the fact that people still paid to go and see it! Fool us all once Mr Bay...shame on you, fool us all twice...shame on us, fool us all three times...we're all a bunch of idiots, fool us all four times...I give up! Its utterly amazing to me that Bay and co actually said this film would be different, it wouldn't be anything like the previous movies, new cast, new approach etc...yet they basically lied, its exactly like the previous movies.

The plot sees the Autobots on the run from humans because we no longer want anything to do with them...understandable I guess. At the same time the dastardly CIA is helping a lone bounty hunter Transformer (Decepticon) track down the remaining Autobots to try and locate Prime so he can be taken back to his employers...sounds a bit 'Boba Fett-ish' does it not. This yet again sees a bunch of humans helping the Autobots as they also attempt to stop a company creating their own Transformer army using Transformium found with ancient dinosaur skeletons. The company uses Megatron's head for data resulting in Megatron being reincarnated as Galvatron (a newly created Transformer by the company) and leading these new Transformers against everybody. Oh and there's this bomb gadget that cyberforms land into metal (Transformium) which Galvatron/Megatron wants to use on Earth, it came from the bounty hunter as a reward to the CIA for tracking down Prime, the CIA in turn gives it to the rich company for their Transformer army project.

I guess we're all used to the fact now that our beloved Transformers franchise has been butchered by Bay and isn't coming back. So its of no surprise that he further destroys the original source material with this hectic plot. Galvatron is built by humans, the dinosaurs were wiped out by this alien race, humans building Transformer armies, the Dinobots just being there no explanations given etc...Nothing really makes any sense in this movie (unsurprisingly), Prime starts out as a rusting pile of junk with various injuries, yet he merely scans this new truck and turns into a gleaming brand new truck with a new paint job and no apparent injuries, so was he ever actually damaged or what? Plus why has his design changed? can these Transformers alter their actual design?! wouldn't that alter the way they transform? Mind you I say that but we can't actually see what the hell is happening when they do transform, its just a mass of tiny shiny parts moving.

I also realised in this new film that the Transformers have no size issues, by that I mean Prime transforms from an average size truck into a massive in the original source material if the Transformer was small he transformed into a small vehicle or object, all the Transformers appear to be the same size in the movies yet transform into various small slim vehicles. It also bugs the shit outta me that virtually every vehicle is a flippin' super car! that's not the idea Bay, they transform into various mobiles for cover, you don't get much cover transforming into a fecking blue Bugatti Veyron sheesh!

Carrying on from that complaint is the new Autobot designs...head in So now there is a fat bearded Autobot who smokes a cigar (?!) and looks like an old prospector miner. Crosshairs is now a very easy to conceal flashy metallic green Corvette and somehow has his own trench coat?? Next to that is the samurai Autobot Drift, now I know originally this character was kinda Japanese with katana-esque blades and he transformed into Jap super saloon hybrid type thing...but did he really need to be an actual samurai, why would he even speak in a Japanese human accent being an alien. Its the same issue with the Dinobots, why would they transform into Earth creatures? did they visit Earth back then and that's why? why don't they speak? why do they actually behave like real creatures? There is nothing given to us about these epic characters, they just appear and look NOTHING like they used to...which was awesome. A two headed, two tailed dragon thing for Swoop? fuck off!

All the usual repeated problems aside its business as usual with everything else. Its a Bay flick so expect blondes in tight hot pants, sunsets everywhere, low camera angles, slow motion low camera angles, plosions filled with fireworks, ridiculous stunts and product placement in almost every scene. The Chevrolet Sonic RS made me laugh...just looks like a Honda Type R wannabe, don't forget the usual boring display of American 'muscle cars' such as the brick-like Camaro and various other American motors.

There really doesn't seem to be any sensible thought in this entire production, lets just make it as loud long and flashy as we can, never mind what everybody has moaned about previously, same again. The destruction porn gigantically colossal! its a gargantuan spectacle of monumental CGI effects that just bores the shit outta you within five minutes. Not even Godzilla can compare to this crap, there's like...ships and tankers dropping out of the sky onto downtown Hong Kong, how many innocents died in this? So yes the CGI is impressive in places but its also bad in others, bizarrely bad in fact, terrible greenscreen shots, hokey molecularly CGI transformations etc...its like the effects got worse!

There is just too much to whine about here, I can't carry on because this review will end up titanic in proportions. The plot is a hodge podge of various other movies, again you can barely follow what's going on and everything is visually garish and completely stupid. Bay has simply done exactly what he did before, ignored the criticisms and gone his own way making more drivel, how he managed to get Wahlberg on board is unbelievable, obviously lots money but surely Wahlberg knows about these movies (Bay lied to them too maybe). Tucci is there to try an make things better with dumb comedy, Peltz merely does everything Fox would have done and apparently Grammer is now being trained in the Liam Neeson school of becoming an old man badass?

I can't believe we've come to a point where a six year old franchise is soooo bad that it now needs to be rebooted from scratch. That's how bad Bay has taken this, no I'm not joking, I wish I was...its pathetic. The only one plus point about this entire fiasco is the fact this movie will make your new LED TV look good...other than that lets just ignore Bay and hopefully he will go away.


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)

So this would be Seth MacFarlane's own comedy western version (or should I say attempt) of 'Blazing Saddles' or 'City Slickers' with his trademark Family Guy tomfoolery all in an uneasy marriage. The movies title does sound intriguing that's for sure, hell its actually a great title...but it could also be summed up quite easily in a 30 minute TV episode or maybe even a comedy sketch. This really is a one trick pony I'm afraid.

The plot isn't worth discussing as it simply involves MacFarlane playing the useless underdog against a rough tough cowboy and his band of merry men. In the middle is the blonde damsel in distress played by Theron who naturally falls for MacFarlane as things proceed and we make our way to the inevitably predictable stand off at high noon. Its the basic western theme with the basic western setups and scenarios along side the reasonably amusing notion of how easy it was to get killed in the wild west...briefly touched upon in places.

The film just felt like a spin off from Family Guy, almost like a live action version with 'Brian'. As MacFarlane provides the voice of Brian in his animated show it just feels like you're watching Brian in the wild west. The comedy plays out exactly as it does in Family Guy, you get the plot interspersed with the odd joke or visual gag that may or may not have anything to do with the plot. For instance right in the middle of the movie MacFarlane's characters stumbles across a barn and finds Doc Brown working on his Delorean. Now I will admit its a nice little visual moment and both Christopher Lloyd and the car looked great...but its completely off the wall and had nothing to do with the actual movie!...just like MacFarlane's animated show.

I really must stop comparing this movie to that animated show but you understand its very hard. The humour is of course as you would expect with lots of toilet gags and slapstick, lots fart and poo gags, much sexual references, sexism, racism, black humour, offensive bits...and then there's some good old fashioned lunacy and visual jiggery pokery. End of the day its quintessentially MacFarlane, you either love it or hate it which isn't necessarily a bad thing but you just feel like its dated already. There are some things in there that did make me laugh...or at least giggle, some good lines of dialog here and there. Overall most of it misfires, seems childish amateurish or just plain dumb admittedly but there are still some accurate strikes from the comedy bomber. I liked the spiel about old fashioned photo's and folk never smiling, the various ways people could die back in this era, the bad state of medicine at the time and the way Ribisi's prostitute girlfriend casually acts about her career.

'shoot that dirty cowboy cum all over my face!!'

One thing the film does have and that's stunning location work. The movie really does look superb at every turn with the eye popping New Mexico backdrops. Some (most) of the acting scenes are outdone by the incredible landscapes we see behind the stars. Its far more interesting to look at the rugged desolate beauty of nature instead of Theron and MacFarlane trying to shoot bottles or MacFarlane trying to chat up Theron. Seriously am I the only one who thought that? is it me or is this guy clearly trying to flirt with Theron in some of these scenes? we all know he wrote himself the best part of course. Oh and what's with all the pointless non-dialog cameos? just because he could get these big names?

I get that MacFarlane has tried to make a sort of old fashioned western comedy mixed with his own unique blend of humour here...the classic credit fonts, the obligatory meeting with Indians, the old cliched good guy coming up trumps in the end routine after dealing with moustache twirling enemies (literately) and dirty dark coloured attire wearing bad cowboys etc...I think we all knew it would be a satire and parody of sorts...but I guess everyone just kinda thought it would be funnier or a bit more ingenious than just shit jokes.

MacFarlane is clearly not a leading man, I don't think anyone had the balls to tell him this. He ain't got the looks, he ain't got any sort of physique and strangely enough he can't quite pull off visual tomfoolery (neither can Theron, comedy ain't her thing). He does have an excellent voice though and that's his best weapon, we don't need to see you MacFarlane, just hear you. The movie looks outstanding in almost every scene no doubting that, the idea had promise, there are some good bits...but generally this feels like a very scattershot affair. The lighting has not been bottled here, hit and miss, now get off your high horse MacFarlane.


Saturday, 11 October 2014

Armageddon (1998)

Back in 1998 after the first asteroid disaster porn flick, we got this second very different take on the same idea. The first movie 'Deep Impact' had been a very serious sensible realistic angle on what would or could happen. This film was helmed by the one and only Michael Bay...hence it went down the over the top action packed cool gadget exploding set piece rammed popcorn fireball with enough gloss and shine to decorate Buck Palace.

What is so funny about this is the plot for this movie is exactly the same as 'Deep Impact', admittedly there isn't much scope for originality when an asteroid is heading to Earth but bloody hell! So yes an asteroid is heading to Earth and its a whopper! NASA are befuddled about what to do so they devise this plan to drill into the asteroids core (or near enough) and plant one of those ever handy nukes we have strewn around our planet for just such an occasion. For this they are gonna need Bruce Willis and his team of beer swillin' fist throwing womanising drunkies to save the day, thank God for Bruce Willis.

So the initial hook for this movie is the bunch of grimy grunts that are handed the job of saving the world. In the other film the team of astronauts were clean cut slickass all Americans (apart from the Russian) that all probably sat down to pee, this time the team are so utterly shabby and rebellious you tend to wonder how the hell they ever manage to get anything done without squabbling drinking or having random brawls. Willis' character shows how unstable he is in the first ten minutes by going after Batfleck's character with a shotgun! a grown adult is falling in love with his grown adult daughter...yeah sure that isn't too overly protective to worrying proportions.

I can't deny that this hook is a winner and Bay nurtures it perfectly. The gathering of the team montage is fun and badass as each member is brought in by officials from their own individual seedy locations, Buscemi's being the best. The casting for this team again is admittedly sheer brilliance, Buscemi is the...errr well he's virtually a seedy prostitute using Lothario that makes you wonder if age ever comes into it. Will Patton is the all round sense of reason for the team, Michael Clarke Duncan is basically the gruff muscle (could he really be anything else?), Batfleck is the handsome young guy who is bonking the romantic angle Liv Tyler and Owen Wilson in one of his first major roles plays a Texan cowboy type because...errm he comes from Texas in real life and has a Texan drawl.

Next to the D-team of heroes you have Keith David playing the gruff US military General who naturally hasn't revealed the entire plan, Fichtner plays the gruff golden boy US astronaut who also hasn't revealed the entire plan because he's in cahoots with the US military, Billy Bob Thornton is the good guy NASA controller who is the sense of reason on the ground and finally Peter Stormare naturally plays a Russian astronaut who comes across as drunk for most of the time. Yep so the cast line is pretty darn sweet no doubt, a solid ensemble.

As I've already explained and as I'm sure you're all aware of the other hook for this movie was the firework display show more commonly known as the special effects. The movie is ridiculous yes, we know this, but at no point does the movie ever try not to be ridiculous, Bay and co know what they are aiming for and they strike with lethal efficiency. The set pieces all look like something from a comicbook superhero flick, the gadgets are big bold and badass, the action is wild and furious with people getting killed off in various obligatory space-like ways and in general it all does look very good even to this day. Add to that the now known Bayisms such as mighty lens flares, mighty low camera angles, mighty explosions...even in space, sunsets, that specific colour palette he seems to regurgitate, slow motion close ups and his military fetish. The only things he doesn't manage to cram in here surprisingly are car porn and hot girly soft porn (Tyler most certainly does not qualify here).

The film in short was a huge huge success mainly because it caters for us...the regular folk. The heroes in the movie are all average Joe's with average looks and various defects (mainly mental), this isn't about big lantern jawed super men with huge biceps and rippling six-packs. The entire premise of regular blue collar bums getting called up to save the Earth is a winning formula that most will get behind. This also adds to the nice array of semi adult humour that is spread throughout the movie plus it cranks up the tension and emotions massively when the guys get into big trouble and you approach the predictable weepy ending. Its genuinely great fun to watch this group of everyday schmoes trying to get through NASA training with their attitudes towards the preppy clean cut environment they are now in and their average everyday physical issues such as being completely out of shape. You also relate and feel for them when the shit hits the fan and they're stuck in this scientific hi-tech terror situation with lots of confusing buttons.

Yep back in the day Bay knew how to throw out a good heavily buttered popcorn flick...before he milked it out of existence. The movie was targeted for the wider audience and it scored in every department, even the God awful Aerosmith power ballad cleaned up as teenage girls everywhere trembled at the knees. The film moved with an incredible pace which I found acceptable given the style of the movie and the fact we already had a slower burning asteroid strike movie earlier in the year. Likewise the authenticity of the whole thing was kinda dubious in places but really? does anyone really need to even question that aspect of it? its quite obvious what could possibly be done in reality and what probably couldn't.

Both of the asteroid flicks that landed back in 1998 were essentially exactly the same thing, they offered the same and delivered the same. Each movie offered the same but from a different angle...and they both worked! amazingly. End of the day as I said in my 'Deep Impact' review, that first movie was the equivalent of a much slower sensible simulator videogame. This movie is the equivalent of an arcade videogame, big bold loud bad colourful and in your face, it should rock you, and honesty for me this movie actually did just that.


Thursday, 9 October 2014

Black Sabbath (aka I Tre Volti Della Paura ITA/FRA 1963)

Yes this is the film that the famous rock band took their name from after they saw how people enjoyed being frightened.  An Italian horror movie with a low budget but an international cast, so a different flavour to the British horror anthologies. This film was also one of the first horror anthologies I do believe, before the likes of Amicus and Hammer got the idea.

The stories are introduced by Boris Karloff who is simply standing in front of a dated psychedelic-esque background and giving a speech about all things creepy basically. The funny thing is he is dressed quite normally in a simple suit and is hammering on about vampires and spectres as if this were a Vincent Price movie. The stories you see aren't really in that classic vein though, these tales are actually much more grounded and genuinely creepy (well two are).

The first short story revolves around a young French call-girl who starts getting terrorised by phone calls from her ex-pimp (spoiler alert). This pimp has just broken out of jail and is threatening her life because she was responsible for putting him away. The young girl calls her female friend around to help and comfort her, little does she know the threatening calls are from her friend who is simply trying to reunite with her. The friend figures this is the only way the young call-girl will allow her back into her life...pretty extreme way of making up isn't it! In the end the real pimp shows up and kills them both just as the friend was writing a note to explain what she has been doing.

This first tale is quite poor I think, its in no way scary or remotely thrilling, especially when you discover the friend is behind it all. The thing is this revelation gave me a better idea, they should of made the pimp the one behind the calls as originally expected. Then in the end when the call-girl discovers this it would have been cool to also find out the pimp was killed in his prison escape attempt so all along the calls were coming from beyond the grave. The fact that the pimp merely turns up and kills both young women is a complete anticlimax, just a basic murder. Its very glossy though, it actually looks like a high production porn flick at times.

Next up is a more kooky traditional tale of ghoulies in the night...well a spin on vampire lore actually. Set in 19th century Russia a young man stumbles across a small family in the wilderness who are battling against a breed of creature known as Wurdalak. These things are undead zombie types that feed on the blood of the living, especially relatives they once knew strangely enough. Karloff plays the father of this family that ventured out to kill a Wurdalak but has returned one himself, naturally the story plays out as a battle of survival for all the living.
Definitely the best looking of the three stories, the sets and props are really sumptuous in this and could easily be part of a full length movie. Great atmosphere with the swirling mist and bleak locations but the actual tale is pretty daft really. Karloff is wonderful as the pale grizzled bearded undead nightstalker but end of the day he's merely playing an unkempt Dracula. Everything goes as you might predict admittedly but thinking back I just can't fault the production values on this one.

The final act sees a woman stealing a fancy ring off another woman who has recently passed away. This sets off all manner of supernatural occurrences such as a mysterious dripping of water, a mysterious fly that won't leave her alone and eventually the dead woman's corpse actually appearing before her. Now this short vignette is the jewel in the crown for this movie, its actually incredibly spooky and very atmospheric with the dripping water echoing around the woman's house. It really does give you the chills...that is until the finale where the corpse appears and really does freak you the fuck out! The dead body has this God awful twisted expression on her face which is enough to keep you up at night I kid you not, that on top of the whole 'Ring-esque' sequence where it  moves towards the terrified woman. The final twist in the tale here is again predictable but oh so delicious.

There is no way an American movie in that era would or could pull off something this scary, at the time this was hard core stuff, the Italians were bold and brave. The mix of half naked ladies, the image of call-girls (hookers), blood and the surprisingly scary final story gave this film a real edge rarely seen in British or American horror anthologies. What's more this entire production clearly has so much class, skill and polish, every segment looks great, sounds great and could work as an individual movie in its own right. The first is standard murder fare, the second is standard ghoulish fare and the third is possibly the inspiration for many modern horror movies ('The Ring'!)...but they are all done very stylishly making other examples look crap in comparison.

Its such a shame Bava chose to end the movie by revealing Karloff astride a fake horse and with all the cameras and crew. The main camera pulls back to reveal the studio floor as Karloff finishes his spooky speech. Not too sure why he's in his Wurdalak character get up either. Can't deny its a fun little ending and very interesting to see how they did that effect, but at the same time I can't help but feel they kinda extinguish everything they managed to created and visualise so well prior to that.


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Tales from the Crypt (UK, 1972)

Original British horror anthology based on EC's 'Tales from the Crypt' which would eventually lead to the more well known US TV series and films. As usual Amicus are behind the tales of terror.

Being a British version of the old comic its naturally slightly reserved and a little more serious or gloomy. The cast is made up of some classy stalwartly Brits such as Peter Cushing and Ralph Richardson and many well known characters actors of British film, TV and theatre.

The five short stories are interesting but not wild effects packed thrillers as the later movies. The first has Joan Collins murdering her husband at Xmas but being strangled herself by an escaped loony dressed up as Santa who was let in the house by her little girl. Second has a cheating husband seeing his own death and coming back as the undead. Third shows Peter Cushing as an old man being hounded by his snobby neighbours to move as they dislike his scruffy presence next door. The old man commits suicide then comes back from the dead to exact revenge.

Fourth story is a variation on the famous short 'The Monkey's Paw' (also spoofed by 'The Simpsons' so well in their Halloween episodes). A recently widowed woman makes bad choices or wishes with a small Oriental statue causing herself much grief. The last story shows what happens to a mean money pinching man who runs a home for blind men very badly. The residents get their revenge on the Scrooge-like director of the so called care home.

The stories are told as predictions of the future by the Crypt Keeper to a group of people visiting some old catacombs, the frame/wrap plot. The keeper is a much more serious take on what you may be used to these days, very monk like, a normal human face, well spoken, almost like the Grim Reaper. The stories are also quite tame and not overly exciting by today's standards. Some blood on show but its pretty clearly red paint and the odd good bit of makeup/prosthetics on the undead. Peter Cushing's small performance as a zombie is actually extremely unnerving down to the quite ghastly makeup applied to his gaunt face, kudos there.

The film isn't as fun I thought, its kinda dull and takes itself too seriously. The stories are fair but lean more towards simple revenge without much visual gore or goo, that's perfectly fine but I always thought these anthologies need at least one or two good monster/creature features. The finale vignette for example, about the care home for the blind, is very strange. At first you feel sorry for the elderly men being pushed around by the new director, but when they take their revenge it seems way too extreme and nasty frankly, you end up feeling sorry for the director and his dog.

The same can be said for the woman and her Chinese figurine. She's not a bad person, she merely makes wishes that turn sour on her so again you're not too sure how to feel towards that character, you feel for her in the end. As for the Joan Collins short story...that's just unscary and bloody obvious right from the start (no pun intended), just a dull murder tale. The best and most inventive tale must be 'Refection of Death' with the man seeing his own death, brilliant twist at the very end there.

In the end the bookend plot involving all the people in the catacombs has a nice eerie twist which isn't overly original as this twist does pop up in other anthology movies. Never the less it works really well despite the dodgy sets and effects of the time, rather predictable though methinks. An Interesting set of horror stories, not a thrilling set but fun to watch all the over acting and reactions. Certainly one of the better made horror anthologies if a bit bland in places.


Thursday, 2 October 2014

Dr. Terror's House of Horror (UK, 1965)

You know I really love these old horror movie titles, they are so damn cheesy and unscary, sound more like a Simpsons episo...wait a minute. The other thing is this title doesn't really relate to the actual movie, Dr. Terror (Cushing) is actually Dr. Schreck because as you all know Schreck is German for terror, so that adds up. But why is the film called house of horror? its set within a train carriage, minor quibble I know but it just stands out to me.

So as I just said the movie takes place on board an old sixties railway carriage where five men have all seemingly come together by chance. Little do they know that its actually cruel fate that has brought them together and Dr. Terror...errr Schreck, is gonna be dealing out some scythe related death (he's obviously Death, there is no gory scythe action). Each gentleman gets his fortune/future read via Schreck's tarot cards and each one is told what their future holds. Will it be all sunshine and its death.

Up first is a tale about an ancient Count who centuries before had been killed by the Dawson clan, and this same clan is now represented by our first train passenger in the present day...Mr Dawson. This long dead Count is now after revenge against the clan by trying to kill Mr Dawson, the last descendant. The Count is attempting this by coming back from the dead in the form of a werewolf. The twist in this tale is rather mundane if you ask me and I had to rewatch it to get the full gist of it, the plot also raises various questions as usual such as why the need for a werewolf? Nice spooky atmosphere throughout though.

The second tale is an amusing little take on the old silly idea of killer plants. Think of 'Day of the Triffids' mixed with 'Little Shop of Horrors' if you will. Alan Freeman returns home to his family only to find a large vine growing outside his house, when he tries to cut it down it becomes aggressive and ends up killing their dog. Hilariously he goes to the Ministry of Defence for help where he gets advice from James Bond actor Bernard Lee of all people. After some fantastically insightful and incisive dialog about plants they return to try and stop the vine only to end up trapped inside the house. Luckily they discover fire will scare off the plant (duh!) and Lee manages to escape. We are then left to believe the vine has worked out how to extinguish fire so...the world is doomed??

Easily the worst of the bunch yet at the same time easily the best for laughs, I wouldn't even call it a horror, its clearly science fiction and belongs in the Twilight Zone. Watching Lee acting all serious about these killers vines is nothing short of a pure sci-fi joygasm, its fecking hysterical. The scene where they are all pacing up and down in the Ministry of Defence, all decked out in their stale looking suits talking about plants and how to combat them is tremendous. Every bit of this vignette is so cliched and predictable right down to Lee lighting up a ciggy by the window causing the vines to back off...and guess what this tale is called...creeping vine of course.

Next up sees Roy Castle and his jazz band off to the West Indies for a gig. Whilst there he overhears some grade A tunage at a voodoo ceremony and decides to pinch it (as you do). When he plays the tune back in London a supernatural force comes after him...apparently. Again this is another dodgy episode which isn't really very interesting or scary, it feels more like an advert for the real jazz band shown playing. In the end it feels very patchy and not entirely well thought out.

In this movie Christopher Lee plays an arrogant snobby harsh art critic and this tale delivers his comeuppance. After being badly embarrassed by Michael Gough the artist Lee takes revenge by running him over with his car, in the incident Gough's hand is crushed and he loses it. As he cannot paint anymore Gough's character commits suicide, not long after Lee is haunted and tormented by the dead artists amputated hand. Standard fare this one but it works well with its revenge and retribution themes. The disembodied hand effects are pretty crummy truth be told and this does let the episode down but the class acts of Lee and Gough can't be ignored.

Lastly Donald Sutherland discovers a vampire is on the loose in his home town in the US. He seeks advice from a colleague only to then discover the vampire is his new French bride. His colleague tells Sutherland to kill the vampire but when the police show up to arrest Sutherland the colleague denies everything. The twist ending here is pretty obvious really and also pretty lame. Without spoiling anything the twist goes against basic vampire lore and you're left wondering how, plus the effects for the vampire transformation are dreadful but I guess this is an old film on an average budget.

So once again the selection of ghoulish tales is pretty mediocre I think, the vampire and disembodied hand tales are quite good and eerie. The werewolf tale doesn't really make much sense, the voodoo tale with Roy Castle feels too much like a comedy because of Castle and the vine sci-fi tale is utterly side-splitting which it isn't suppose to be. The other thing that didn't quite add up was the fact all these tales were suppose to be premonitions of each characters future and death, yet in the end they all get killed on board the train in a twist ending that has been used before in a few horror anthologies. So what was the point of all these future predictions about their untimely deaths when none of it was actually gonna happen anyway.

I also felt sorry for all the characters in this anthology, in most of these films the characters are bad people in one way or another getting their comeuppances. This time the characters are all a bunch of nice polite chaps that don't appear to have done anything wrong and have had the misfortune to fall afoul of the Grim Reaper (accept for Lee). So I found myself asking why these nice guys are getting crapped on...I guess they're just unlucky, not necessarily deserving of death but just unlucky, shit happens and the Reaper merely reaps, just doing his job.

In the end this is a solid anthology with an uneven mix of horror tales, in all honesty the one thing that keeps this films head above the water is its cast. You can't get much more epic than this roster...Cushing, Lee, Sutherland, Bernard Lee, Freeman, Gough and Castle. The fact you have Cushing alongside Lee is enough to get any classic Horror fanboy excited. Personally I would see this for the killer vine sci-fi episode, so bad its good.